Mosque in Jumeirah

by Garry Craig Powell

This photo (by Yolanda Reinoso again–thanks!) is a fairly typical modern mosque in the UAE. It is in Jumeirah, the beach district of Dubai, where a lot of western expats live. Another resident is Randa, the Palestinian-Lebanese wife of Marwan in Stoning the Devil. After the divorce she lives in a high-rise apartment provided for her by her married Emirati lover, the businessman Khalifa, who also buys her a little sports car and keeps her in clothes. Incidentally, such arrangements are quite common in the Gulf, as they were in nineteenth-century Europe, and are by no means confined to Muslim women. A lot of western women choose to be kept by rich locals. I had a friend, a deeply religious man–in fact an imam–who told me I should I find myself a lover. He said I could find a Sudanese or Somali woman for a very reasonable rate.  He saw no contradiction with his religion. Women were simply a legitimate diversion for him. This same man also strongly recommended Parisian prostitutes.

In the UAE, almost all mosques are reserved for men; women have to pray at home, in general, though in many Muslim countries they are allowed to enter the mosque, but they pray at the back, apart from the men. At the Friday noon prayer, all male Muslims are expected to pray at the mosque and they are very crowded. So crowded are they, in fact, that many people can’t get in, and will pray outside, spreading their prayer mats on the pavements or sidewalks, or even in the roads. Outside my apartment block in Abu Dhabi, for example, every Friday I could see a big crowd in the street outside the closest mosque–so big that traffic couldn’t pass. In any case traffic is very light during the Friday prayers. For this reason, westerners often use that time to run errands. Incidentally, non-Muslims aren’t allowed in the mosques in the UAE either, so I haven’t been inside one there, though I have in Kenya, Turkey and India.

Here is an extract from “A Woman’s Weapon” in Stoning the Devil. Fayruz is Randa’s sister-in-law. She is listening to the muezzins calling the faithful to prayer and watching an Afghan truck driver from her apartment as she begins to relive the trauma of Christian and Israeli massacres carried out in Sabra and Shatila (refugee camps on the outskirts of Beirut) in 1982:

Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar! The muezzins’ cries broke almost simultaneously from a dozen minarets, filling the sky like a flock of wheeling, screeching, scattering birds. The Afghan spread his mat on the ground beside his truck. God is great! God is great! The echoes tripped over each other, moments apart, high and low, harsh and sweet, poignant, pregnant with longing, as the English said. She had been pregnant with the child of a Muslim militiaman, she couldn’t be sure whose, conceived in a car or an alley, who knew, there had been so much sex, snatched in lulls between the fighting. Trousers round their ankles, those boy-men had fired off their semiautomatic sperm. There is no God but God—but God—but God, the holy cretins sang, and Mohammed is his prophet, prophet. The Afghan knelt. Fayruz hadn’t prayed since the massacre.

All over the cities in the Gulf you can hear the Friday sermons, broadcast on loudspeakers, whether you are inside the mosque or not. The imams (men who lead the prayer–not strictly clerics in Sunni Islam, though they do receive a stipen, and are often from poorer countries like Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia) get very passionate, and often political. Furious denunciations of ‘the Zionist entity’ (Israel) are common for example. People tend to be more devout on Fridays, and non-Muslims are advised to be especially sensitive then.